We want to spread the word about one of our most recent and exciting youth grants which involves the addition of a Best Buddies program at the Ottumwa High School. Best Buddies provides opportunities for one-on-one mutually enriching friendships for youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), who have experienced social isolation and rejection. The Best Buddies OHS Chapter is thriving and currently has 49 participants, 30 are peer buddies (general education students) and 19 are buddies (special education students). Participants are asked to meet once per week at school and two times per month outside of school. As a club, outside of school activities are sponsored once per month and include activities such as bowling, a basketball camp, and a holiday party. Buddies are encouraged to go to basketball games, wrestling meets, school plays, or any school sponsored activities together. A couple of special education students are also able to be “Buddy of the Night” at home game men’s basketball games, in which they get to go on the court with the starting line-up and wear a practice jersey.
By introducing youth with an IDD to a peer without a disability in a supported, positive setting, loneliness and isolation is combated while increasing peer understanding and acceptance of people with IDD. This is affirmed by Ottumwa High School special education teacher and Best Buddies coordinator Laura Schwab who says, “At school, we have seen a TREMENDOUS growth in the self-confidence of my students as their peer buddies have encouraged them to move away from the lunch table they’ve sat at for years, make eye contact with them in the hallways, write letters to each other, and meet at lockers in the morning and during advisory.” Not only is this club valuable to student participants, it also contributes to a school-wide and district-wide initiative to improve and build upon student-to-student relationships, citizenship, leadership, and character.